Washington Crossing the Delaware
ANNOUNCER We take pleasure in presenting this story of Washington crossing the
Delaware. The picture of that famous event is familiar to everyone, but the
story of what led up to it, and of its importance in American history is not
so well known.
The fall and early winter of the year 1776 saw the fortunes of Washington's
army sink very low indeed. Beginning with the defeat on Long Island in late
August, Washington and his army had met reverse after reverse. They had been
forced to retire in succession from Manhattan to Fort Washington, then across
the river to Fort Lee, then from Fort Lee to Hackensack. This succession of
defeats and the enforced retirements had disorganized and depleted the army.
But even worse than that, it had well-nigh ruined the morale of the civilian
population, whose hearty support was absolutely necessary if the war was to be
carried on. But now, discouraged and disheartened, the mass of the population
gave Washington no help, no encouragement, no cooperation.
This is the situation on the morning of November 22, 1776, as we begin our
story. Washington is in his headquarters at Hackensack, New Jersey, when
Colonel Joseph Reed, his aide, enters--
REED Good morning, General Washington!
WASHINGTON Good morning, Colonel, what news?
REED Not much, I'm afraid, sir.
WASHINGTON Have we no information of the British movements yet?
WASHINGTON What's the matter with our intelligence service?
REED It's completely disrupted, sir; and we can get no help from the civilian
WASHINGTON I know--they've lost all faith in us, Colonel. Nothing but a
victory can bring us again the loyalty and help of our own people! It's
discouraging, Colonel, to think that now when we need it more than ever
before, we can get no help!
REED Sir, if we could only turn and strike a quick blow, we might recapture
WASHINGTON Yes--if I only knew what force of the enemy is holding the Fort,
and when Lord Howe expects to bring the rest of his army across the Hudson.
REED Well, we don't know that!
WASHINGTON And without an intelligence service we can't find out! Of course if
General Lee would join me--there wasn't any word from Lee this morning, was
REED None, sir.
WASHINGTON Oh, why doesn't he answer? Why doesn't he come? It's been more than
a week now since I ordered him to join me at once! Have you heard any rumor
about him? Has he left Peekskill yet? Has he crossed the Hudson?
REED I haven't heard a word. He hasn't even acknowledged the last half dozen
orders I've forwarded to him.
WASHINGTON That's the most discouraging thing of all! If the second in command
won't obey orders, is it any wonder that the rest of the army is out of hand?
Oh, well! We can't hope to do anything without Lee's help, so there's nothing
for us to do but retreat--
WASHINGTON Yes, Colonel, our small force is uselessly exposed here. We can't
risk capture--that would be the end of everything!
REED Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON If Lord Howe crosses the Hudson in force, we'd be trapped between
the Hackensack and the Passaic Rivers.
REED I'm afraid so, sir.
WASHINGTON So--we've got to begin our retreat at once.
REED The troops are ready to move, sir. It shouldn't take us long to get out
of danger with our small force.
WASHINGTON Yes, yes, that's one advantage of a small army, isn't it, Colonel?
At least we can retreat rapidly! I suppose the force we have is even smaller
today than it was yesterday?
REED I'm afraid so, sir. The morning report showed less than five thousand
present and fit for duty!
WASHINGTON If we only had Lee's seven thousand! But we haven't. You may order
the retreat at once, Colonel.
REED Yes sir, over what route?
WASHINGTON We'll move across the Acquackonack bridge, and thence to Newark.
REED Yes, sir. I'll write the orders, sir. (_rattle of paper_)
WASHINGTON Colonel John Glover with his Marblehead regiment will cover the
retreat as usual.
REED Yes, sir. And the advance?
WASHINGTON Knox and his artillery will lead. We mustn't lose our guns--the few
we have left.
REED Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON (_half to himself_) Retreat--retreat--retreat! Is there nothing
else in store for us?
REED Will you sign these, sir?
WASHINGTON Yes--the quill.
REED Here you are, sir.
WASHINGTON Thank you. (_rattle of paper_) You may send the orders at once,
REED Yes, General. (_calling_) Orderly!
ORDERLY Yes, sir.
REED Deliver these orders at once!
ORDERLY Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON I suppose it's useless to send another order to Lee.
REED We can send one--I don't think it will have any effect.
WASHINGTON He ought to be informed of where we're going--yes, write him again,
tell him we're retreating to Newark--
REED Very well, sir--and after Newark?
WASHINGTON Retreat again I suppose. New Brunswick--Trenton--across the
Delaware into Pennsylvania.
REED Yes sir, if we have any army left by then.
WASHINGTON We have some loyal souls who will stand with us to the end. We may
have to retreat to the back country of Pennsylvania; but winter is coming,
Lord Howe is not an energetic foe, and he will hardly press us after the snow
falls. Then if we can fill up our depleted ranks we'll be ready for him in the
REED Oh, General, if we could only make one stand against the enemy! Make one
bold stroke to put new heart into our discouraged countrymen!
WASHINGTON I know--I know, Colonel! If Lee would only obey my orders!
REED Very little hope of that!
WASHINGTON I know--and I can't understand his motives!
REED Why sir, they're perfectly plain to me--and to the rest of the army.
REED Certainly--he wants to discredit you--to bring about your failure--so
that he can succeed to your command!
WASHINGTON So--? (_pause_) Well, if Lee can bring victory where I have failed,
I'll be only too glad to step down in his favor.
REED Sir, I beg of you, you mustn't even entertain such a thought, why General
Lee could no more--(_knock_)
WASHINGTON Will you see who it is, Colonel.
REED Yes, sir--(_mumble at a distance, then out loud_) General, there's a man
here who wants to see you.
WASHINGTON Who is it?
REED He refuses to give his name, and says his business is private.
WASHINGTON Tell him to come in.
REED Yes, sir--(_off_) Come on in, the General will see you.
HONEYMAN Thankee--thankee, sir. I'm obleeged to ye, sir. (_in_) Be ye General
WASHINGTON I am, and what can I do for you?
HONEYMAN Wal'--General--if ye don't mind--er--er--
HONEYMAN I'd like to see ye alone--sir--it's important!
WASHINGTON Alone? Oh, very well, Colonel--
REED I'll go, sir.
WASHINGTON Write that letter to Lee.
REED (_going_) Yes, sir. (_door closes_)
WASHINGTON Now, what is it?
HONEYMAN Wal', here I be, General--
HONEYMAN An' I've had tarnation's own time gittin' here--I cal'ate half yer
army stopped me an' wanted to know my name an' my business--an' they wasn't
goin' to let me in when I wouldn't tell 'em. But it takes more'n that to stop
John Honeyman when he gits sot on doin' something.
WASHINGTON Your name is John Honeyman?
HONEYMAN That's me, sir, an' I promised Marthy--that's my wife, sir--that I'd
come to see ye--and I come, an' here I be!
WASHINGTON And what can I do for you, Mr. Honeyman?
HONEYMAN Nary a thing, General Washington.
WASHINGTON Then what--?
HONEYMAN I come to make ye an offer.
HONEYMAN I'm in a way to find out a lot o' things that's goin' on in the
HONEYMAN Aye, ye see, I'm a butcher.
HONEYMAN An' I've got a contract to supply the redcoats with beef. Now they
think I'm a good Tory! But General, I ain't!
WASHINGTON I'm glad to hear that!
HONEYMAN An' I figgered that mebbe I could find out things an' tell ye about
'em--if we could fix things up.
WASHINGTON How much do you want for your information?
HONEYMAN No! No! General! I ain't tryin' to sell ye nothin'!
WASHINGTON I beg your pardon, Mr. Honeyman. But I have so many insincere
HONEYMAN I know--I know! I hear folks talk. They think I'm a Tory! Wal', sir,
I want they should keep on a-thinkin' it! I cal'ate if I'm a-goin' to be any
use to ye, nobody must know I ain't a rip-roarin' all-fired Tory.
HONEYMAN An' that's the why I wouldn't tell none o' yer men what my name er my
WASHINGTON Mr. Honeyman, you've shown extraordinary good sense! You're exactly
the man I've been looking for! I'm in desperate need of reliable information.
And I believe you're the man to get it for me.
HONEYMAN I cal'ate I be.
WASHINGTON Have you any information now?
HONEYMAN A mite.
HONEYMAN Lord Cornwallis is bringin' 15,000 men across the Hudson tonight, to
WASHINGTON We'll be gone.
HONEYMAN That's fu'st-rate! Now I'll be goin'--an' I'll keep ye informed when
I know anything ye ought to know.
WASHINGTON Just a moment, Honeyman. How are you going to get your information
HONEYMAN Wal', I figger I might come to see ye--
WASHINGTON No, you'd be sure to excite suspicion.
HONEYMAN I'd be as keerful as could be.
WASHINGTON No--I mustn't even let my own men know you're working for me.
HONEYMAN Wal'--ye might have me captured now an' agin--tell yer men I'm a
notorious Tory--an' have 'em be on the lookout fer me particular! Then when
I've got something fer ye, I'll put myself in the way o' gittin' captured.
WASHINGTON Good! That's an excellent idea. I'll have to give you a pretty bad
name with my troops.
HONEYMAN Pshaw--I don't mind that, sir.
WASHINGTON And I don't know how I can reward you.
HONEYMAN I don't need no reward to help ye, General Washington, I got a duty
to do that!--There's only jest one thing, sir--
HONEYMAN I'd sorta--er--kinda like my wife an' children protected from the--
wal'--the results o' my bein' an active an' notorious Tory.
WASHINGTON Of course.
HONEYMAN Ye see, I don't mind what folks think o' me, but Marthy--that's my
wife, sir--she an' the young un's might git--wal'--treated pretty shabby.
WASHINGTON I understand. I'll give you an order for them to use in case of
HONEYMAN Would ye--er--sign it yerself, General?
WASHINGTON Certainly! Here--I'll write it now. (_rattle of paper_) Let's see--
(_slowly_) "To the Good People of New Jersey and all others it may concern: It
is ordered that the wife and children of John Honeyman of--" Where's your
HONEYMAN Grigstown, sir.
WASHINGTON "--of Grigstown, the notorious Tory now within the British lines
and probably acting the part of a British spy, should be protected from all
harm and annoyances. This is no protection to Honeyman himself." Is that
HONEYMAN I cal'ate that covers it, sir.
WASHINGTON Very well, I'll sign it--(_signing_) There you are, sir.
HONEYMAN I'm much obleeged to ye, sir.
WASHINGTON No, Honeyman, I'm the one who is your debtor. Good day, sir.
HONEYMAN Good day, General Washington. Next time ye see me I'll be yer
ANNOUNCER And John Honeyman left Washington's camp to set about making his
position secure with the British. He became one of the regular meat
contractors for Cornwallis's army, which pursued Washington across the state
of New Jersey during the next month.
Washington did not hurry his retreat, but he always got away. Finally about
the first of December, he came to Trenton, where he halted for a week and sent
men up and down the river to collect all the boats on the Delaware. He knew
that he would be forced to retreat into Pennsylvania; and he proposed to leave
no means for the enemy to follow him. On December 8, 1776, the British
advance, which consisted of a brigade of Hessians under Colonel Rall, entered
Trenton; but as usual, Washington was half a day ahead of his pursuers, and as
the Hessians entered the village, the rear guard of the Americans was just
entering the last of the boats, and safely pulled away to the Pennsylvania
shore! Lord Howe, who had joined Cornwallis, sent out men to look for boats,
but none could be found. The weather turned cold. Lord Howe was uncomfortable;
so he decided to put his troops into winter quarters and let the pursuit go.
He had done enough for one season!
He and Cornwallis arranged to scatter the troops about New Jersey to hold that
territory, while they went back to New York to enjoy the winter.
Trenton was left in charge of Colonel Rall and his brigade of Hessians. On
December 22, John Honeyman drove a small herd of cattle into Trenton, left
them standing in front of headquarters, as he went up and knocked on the door.
RALL (_off_) Come in! Come in!
HONEYMAN Mornin', Colonel Rall!
RALL Oh, it's you, Honeyman!
HONEYMAN Aye, it's me--an' I got some cattle out front here fer yer
RALL Well, that's good news--my men will be glad to see that beef! Now we can
give 'em a Christmas dinner that'll _be_ a Christmas dinner!
HONEYMAN All ye need now, Colonel, is a mite o' wine, eh?
RALL Never fear, we've got the wine!
HONEYMAN Wal', ye kin have a fu'st-rate Christmas then.
RALL Yes sir! With roast beef and two hogsheads of fine wine--we should do
HONEYMAN Two? Pshaw, is that all?
RALL Why--what's the matter with that?
HONEYMAN Two hogsheads won't go so far with a whole brigade.
RALL Oh, I haven't got a whole brigade.
HONEYMAN Ye ain't?
RALL No, just a thousand men, that's all! Why sir, they can all get roarin'
drunk on the ration I'll issue 'em.
HONEYMAN An' like as not they will, eh, Colonel?
RALL (_chuckling_) Well, Honeyman, what do you expect o' soldiers? Christmas
you know--and out here in this God-forsaken place. Let 'em get drunk, I say.
There's nothing else to do.
HONEYMAN Wal', Colonel, I cal'ate 'tain't often ye find a better officer than
ye be! I'd like to serve under ye!
RALL Well, if you want--
HONEYMAN Yes, sir. I'd do it if I wasn't helpin' along things in my way by
roundin' up food fer the king's men. Wal', mebbe ye better sign fer these
critters out in front an' I'll be gittin' along. I got to hike over to the
next post. Er--by the way--how fer is it to the next detachment o' troops?
RALL Oh, about six miles south.
HONEYMAN Six miles, huh? How fer to the next one north?
RALL Nobody north of us.
HONEYMAN Eh, nobody north?
RALL No, I'm command of the flank. This is the last post.
HONEYMAN I cal'ate that makes a lot o' hard work fer ye, Colonel?
RALL Hard work?
HONEYMAN Sure, don't ye have to patrol up an' down the river, an' sich like
RALL (_laughing_) What for?
HONEYMAN Wal', after all, there's _some_ o' the enemy left, ain't there?
RALL (_laughing_) A half-a-dozen starved ragamuffins. What could they do to my
HONEYMAN (_joining in the laugh_) Not much, I cal'ate! Ye ain't in much
danger, an' that's a fact!
RALL If we had some boats we'd soon make short work of them. But confound the
rascals, they made away with all the boats.
HONEYMAN Ye ain't got no boats, eh?
RALL Not a one!
HONEYMAN Ye ain't built none, eh?
RALL Why should we?
HONEYMAN Wal'--if ye want to git across the river--
RALL Oh, we'll get across as soon as the river freezes over. We'll get the
last o' the rebels then.
HONEYMAN Wal', Colonel, good luck to ye. But I hope ye won't be in too big a
hurry to capture all the rebels!
RALL Eh, what's that?
HONEYMAN Er--I'll be out of a job; and so'll ye be, Colonel!
RALL Yes, that's right too. Well, let's have a look at your cattle and I'll
sign for 'em.
HONEYMAN Come on--you fu'st, sir.
RALL Thanks--hm--how many did you say there were?
HONEYMAN There's twenty-two critters there--er, there was when I drove 'em up.
RALL Hm--they look a little scrawny.
HONEYMAN Best I could git, Colonel!
RALL (_counting_) Two--four--five--seven--ten (_etc._) Hm--twenty-one's all I
HONEYMAN Twenty-one? Pshaw now--did one o' them critters go trapsin' off. (_he
counts_) Yes sir, that's just what's happened. Wall--sign fer the twenty-one,
an' I'll go out lookin' fer that other critter.
RALL Here you are--let me have that bill--(_rattle of paper_) Twenty-one in
good condition, signed--Rall. There you are. Hope you find the other one.
HONEYMAN Thankee--where's that road off to the left go?
RALL That--oh, that's the river road.
HONEYMAN I cal'ate the critter musta gone that way.
RALL Better keep a sharp lookout if you go down that way.
HONEYMAN Eh? What fer?
RALL Some o' those ragamuffin rebels might be on this side of the river.
HONEYMAN Pshaw now--ye don't say! They come across the river, do they?
RALL Yes, once in a while. But they don't dare bother us. But they might pick
up a civilian.
HONEYMAN Oh, I cal'ate I kin take keer o' myself. I got my whip and this
RALL (_laughing_) That ought to be enough to scare 'em away from you!
HONEYMAN (_going_) They'll figger I'm the hangman come out to git 'em--
fetchin' my halter along! (_he and_ Rall _laugh_)
ANNOUNCER So Honeyman started down the river road, cracking his whip and
swinging his halter. A couple of miles down the road, four Continental
soldiers were in hiding. They had been sent out with instructions to pick up a
prisoner, if possible, and bring him into Washington's headquarters for the
purpose of securing information. As Honeyman drew near their place of hiding
in the brush alongside the river road, the men heard the snapping of his whip.
(_crack of whip_)
CORPORAL (_low_) What's that?
SOLDIER Don't know, sounds funny. See anything, Corporal?
CORPORAL There, I see him! Huh, it's just a farmer crackin' his driving whip.
SOLDIER Yah, I see him. What's he got in his other hand?
CORPORAL Looks like a piece o' rope.
SOLDIER A halter! Look, Corporal!
CORPORAL Yep. A halter. Well, no use stoppin' him. Lie low. We want to get one
o' them Hessians. By George, though, I'd like to have that whip.
SOLDIER What for?
CORPORAL To use on the Hessians we're goin' to git!
SOLDIER You bet. Them mercenaries ought to be whipped out o' the country!
Shootin's too good for 'em--we'd ought to--
CORPORAL Sh! He's gettin' closer.
SOLDIER Say! I know that fellow.
CORPORAL Yah? What about it? Keep quiet, I said!
SOLDIER No! Listen, Corporal, we got to capture him.
SOLDIER The General issued orders about him.
CORPORAL Who is he?
CORPORAL Honeyman the Tory?
SOLDIER That's who it is. Let's grab him.
CORPORAL Men! (_several voices respond_) We're going to take this fellow. All
right now--lie low--and when I give the signal, jump!
HONEYMAN (_off, coming in_) So-o-o, boss--where's that dang critter gone to? I
CORPORAL Halt! Get him boys!
HONEYMAN Say! What's the matter--what ye doin'!
ALL Come on! Grab him! Get hold of him there! Down with him! (_etc._)
HONEYMAN (_at same time_) Hey, you scoundrels! Git off me! Leave me be! I'm a
peaceable man, ye ain't got no right to do this to me--git off me--git off--I
say--hey, leave go my halter!
SOLDIER Well, ain't this nice, boys. He's brought along a rope for us to tie
him up with, now ain't that thoughtful--here--leave go the rope.
HONEYMAN Let me up--don't ye tie me up! I'm jest a farmer--out huntin' a stray
CORPORAL Stray cow, eh? Well, we was huntin' a stray coward! (_laughter_) Here
give me that whip!
SOLDIER Here ye are, Corporal! Well boys, take a look at him--this here's
Honeyman the Tory. (_all comment_)
CORPORAL All right, throw him into the boat! General Washington'll be right
pleased to see ye, Mister Honeyman! Come along--oh, ye won't go, eh--well,
fetch him, boys.
HONEYMAN Leave me be! Stop it! The King's men'll make ye pay fer this.
ALL Hey shut up--grab him Tom--stop that kickin', fetch him along. (_etc._)
ANNOUNCER Protesting and struggling, Honeyman was thrown into the boat and
carried to the Pennsylvania shore of the Delaware. In the meantime, on that
very afternoon of December 22, 1776, Washington was holding a council of war
with his staff.
WASHINGTON Gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Congress has fled from
ALL What? Fled? Left Philadelphia? Too bad! (_etc._)
WASHINGTON I'm sorry! I asked them particularly to stay there, as I feared the
effect on the people of the country. But it seems that even Congress has lost
faith in the army.
KNOX General Washington.
WASHINGTON General Knox.
KNOX We've got to do something to re-establish their faith! (_all agree_)
WASHINGTON Yes! But what? Charles Lee is captured--his army gone--we can't
look for any help from that quarter.
KNOX Sir, can't we go back across the river, suddenly--and strike a blow
before the enemy knows what we are up to?
WASHINGTON We'll have to! It's our only hope. But how, when, and where? I had
hoped that we might get information that would guide us in our plans. Well, we
haven't got it! Now, much as I hate to make any move without full and complete
information, I don't see what else we can do. The river will be frozen over in
a week or ten days. That means that the enemy can cross over and chase us
whither they please! If we are to do anything, we've got to do it now! I've
called you here to lay this before you. Will you follow me on a blind chance?
ALL Yes! We will! You can count on us, sir. (_etc._)
WASHINGTON I want you all to realize that this is a desperate chance. Failure
means--well, we might as well face it--it means the end of our cause; but
success--well, gentlemen, we can only hope and pray for success! (_knock_)
Will you see who's at the door, Colonel Reed?
REED Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON Tell whoever it is to come back later--I'm in council.
REED Yes, sir. (_a mumble at the door_) I beg pardon, sir, they've just
brought in a prisoner.
WASHINGTON Good, tell them to wait outside.
REED They say, sir, it's Honeyman the Tory, and you left orders--
WASHINGTON Honeyman? Excellent! Gentlemen, I must ask you to leave me.
ALL Yes sir, General, of course. (_etc._)
WASHINGTON You may hold yourselves in readiness for action. I'll issue the
ALL (_going_) Yes, sir. Very good, sir. (_etc._)
WASHINGTON Bring the prisoner in, Colonel Reed.
REED (_off_) Yes, sir. Bring him in, men.
VOICES (_coming in_) Here you are--come along. (_etc._)
CORPORAL Here he is, General, that Tory you wanted, sir.
WASHINGTON Very good, men. You may go.
CORPORAL Can you handle him safe, sir?
WASHINGTON He seems to be well bound. I think I'll have no trouble.
CORPORAL Yes, sir. Very good, sir. Come on, men. We'll wait outside, sir.
WASHINGTON (_loud_) Well, Honeyman. We've got you at last, eh?
HONEYMAN (_loud_) I demand to be set free. Ye'll all answer to yer King fer
this. (_door shuts_)
WASHINGTON (_low_) What news?
HONEYMAN Across the river in Trenton there ain't but a thousand Hessians.
WASHINGTON Who's commanding?
HONEYMAN Colonel Rall, and he ain't none too keerful--no patrols up er down
the river--nobody at all north of him, and six miles to the nearest post on
the south of him.
WASHINGTON Excellent--excellent! We can do it! I'll order the attack tomorrow
night! We'll trap them! We'll fight for once instead of retreat--we'll--
HONEYMAN Beggin' yer pardon, sir.
HONEYMAN If yer figgerin' on attackin', the time is Christmas night!
HONEYMAN On Christmas the Hessians are goin' to git a big issue o' heavy wine,
an' wal'--General--ye know soldiers--I don't have to say no more!
WASHINGTON Good! Christmas night! Yes that's it! Has Colonel Rall taken any
precautions against surprise?
HONEYMAN Nary a one that I could see. He ain't a mite o' use fer you er yer
soldiers. Ragamuffins he called 'em.
WASHINGTON Ragamuffins? Yes, they are, poor fellows, but Honeyman, we'll see--
perhaps ragamuffins can fight when they're given the chance--and with this
information, you have given us our chance!
HONEYMAN Wal', sir, I thought ye'd like to know.
WASHINGTON Now, shall I turn you loose, Honeyman?
HONEYMAN No, General, I figger ye'd better treat me like a prisoner er I can't
be any more use to ye.
WASHINGTON True, very well then. I'll have you put in the guardhouse and
contrive to have you escape.
HONEYMAN Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON (_calling_) Oh, Orderly!
ORDERLY (_off_) Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON Tell the Corporal who's waiting out there to come in and take his
prisoner to the guardhouse.
ORDERLY Yes, sir--Corporal, come take charge of your prisoner.
CORPORAL (_off, coming in_) Come on, men! Fall in around the prisoner--and
look sharp that he doesn't try anything--forward march! (_sound of feet
WASHINGTON (_to himself_) Christmas night! Trenton--God be with us!
ANNOUNCER That night, by some unexplained accident, John Honeyman escaped from
the guardhouse and returned to the British lines, where he continued his
valuable service for the American cause.
Washington, with the information that Honeyman had brought him, was able to
lay his plans intelligently and carefully.
Just after dusk has fallen on Christmas night, Washington orders his troops to
the shore of the river. Snow is falling and the wind is howling, as Washington
and Knox stand together near the boat landing--(_wind and murmur of crowd with
occasional sharp commands in background through this scene._)
WASHINGTON This weather ought to help us, Knox.
KNOX Brrr--it's cold enough to keep the Hessians indoors--if that's what you
WASHINGTON The snow will cover our movements.
KNOX Yes--in more ways than one, General.
VOICE (_off_) First brigade is formed, sir.
WASHINGTON Very good. (_lower_) Order embarkation to begin, Knox.
KNOX Artillery first, sir?
WASHINGTON No, a company of foot soldiers first to stand guard and protect the
KNOX Yes, sir. (_calling_) General Green!
VOICE (_off_) Yes, sir.
KNOX Send one of your companies across first to stand guard and protect the
VOICE Very good, sir. Company A, into the boats! (_orders and mob confusion_)
KNOX The river looks bad, sir. See all the ice? It looks wicked!
WASHINGTON Ice! Hm--I hadn't foreseen this.
VOICE (_calling_) General Knox!
KNOX What is it?
VOICE The boatmen say they can't make it, sir.
WASHINGTON Can't make it? But they've got to!
VOICE Sorry sir, they say the floating ice--
WASHINGTON Call Colonel Glover, Knox!
KNOX (_calling_) Glover! Colonel Glover! Pass the word for Colonel Glover.
(_order repeated several times at different distances_)
WASHINGTON We've got to get across, Knox, we've got to! If this attempt fails,
there's nothing left for us! Nothing!
KNOX We'll get across, sir, if we have to swim.
GLOVER (_coming in_) Colonel Glover reports, sir.
WASHINGTON Colonel Glover, can your regiment of seafaring men handle our boats
in that river?
GLOVER General Washington, my men can handle boats in any water!
WASHINGTON The boatmen say they can't cross because of the floating ice.
GLOVER Sir, my men are _sea_ sailors, not river boatmen--it takes more than
ice to scare them off!
WASHINGTON Good! Put some of them in every boat.
GLOVER Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON And you will take general charge of the entire fleet.
GLOVER Very good, sir.
WASHINGTON Tell them to listen to General Knox's commands. He is the only one
whose voice can be heard in this storm!
GLOVER Very good, sir! (_going out_) This way, the Marblehead regiment! This
way to the boats! (_mob_)
ANNOUNCER For the next nine hours the difficult work of crossing the ice-
filled river went forward. Colonel Glover and his regiment of seafaring men
from Marblehead, Massachusetts, performed almost miraculous service in landing
every man, horse, and gun without losing anything!
It was five o'clock in the morning of December 26 when Washington, now on the
Jersey shore of the river, turned to Knox--(_wind and crowd noise_)
WASHINGTON Has the last boatload landed, Knox?
KNOX Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON Call the men to attention.
KNOX (_calling_) Call your men to attention!
VOICES Company--company! (_etc._) Attention! First regiment is formed, sir,
KNOX The men are formed, sir.
WASHINGTON Men, we are about to start upon our most important offensive. Upon
the results of our efforts this morning depends the outcome of our struggle
for liberty and independence.
I shall take the first brigade and half the artillery with me down the
Pennington road. The rest of the detachment under command of General Green
will take the river road. It should take us about four hours to reach the
outposts of Trenton. Now, it is necessary for us to attack simultaneously, so
will the officers all set their watches with mine. It is now just five o'clock
and ten minutes. At nine o'clock, attack!
Let every man march quietly, keep in good order in the ranks, give prompt
obedience to his officers, and bear in mind the watchword--_Victory or Death!_
March your men off!
VOICES First Regiment--Second Regiment--Company--Company--(_etc._)
ANNOUNCER Thus, on that cold and stormy December morning, the half frozen,
desperate band of ragamuffin soldiers started its march toward Trenton--toward
its last forlorn hope. Washington prayed that he might catch the garrison of
Hessians unsuspecting and unprepared; but he feared that he had taken so long
to effect the crossing of the ice-filled river that he could not surprise the
As a matter of fact, warning was sent to Colonel Rall, but that officer,
secure in his belief that no effective force of Colonial soldiers could be
sent against him, paid no attention to the warning.
It was nearly nine o'clock when the Corporal of the advance guard of
Washington's detachment hurried back to report to the General.
CORPORAL General Washington, we've sighted the enemy outpost.
WASHINGTON Good! Halt the brigade, Knox.
VOICES Company--company! (_etc._)
WASHINGTON It lacks five minutes of the time set! Oh, Corporal--
CORPORAL Yes, sir?
WASHINGTON Did you see any sign of General Green's command on the river road?
CORPORAL We saw 'em a half hour ago, sir, as we came over that hill back
WASHINGTON Were they abreast of us?
CORPORAL Yes, sir, a little ahead of us, sir.
WASHINGTON Good. General Knox.
KNOX Yes, sir.
WASHINGTON This storm has likely ruined the flintlocks.
KNOX No doubt of that, sir--we'll have to use bayonets.
WASHINGTON Order bayonets fixed, and the troops deployed ready to charge
bayonets on command.
KNOX Brigade, fix bayonets! (_voices repeat order, etc._) Shall the artillery
lead or follow, sir?
WASHINGTON Follow and take position at the head of every street.
KNOX Very good, sir.
WASHINGTON Hm--two minutes--order the troops deployed.
KNOX Deploy your troops--prepare to charge bayonets! (_command repeated--mob
noise as order is obeyed_)
WASHINGTON Keep your ears open for firing--it's nearly time. (_musketry_)
KNOX There it is, sir!
WASHINGTON Green has started! Order the charge, Knox! And God be with us!
KNOX Forward! Charge bayonets! Ho! (_a great roar from the mob as the charge
ANNOUNCER So Washington and his men swept into the village of Trenton,
catching the Hessians totally unprepared! In an hour and a half it was all
over. The disposed army of ragamuffins put the Hessians to rout! It was the
first great American victory of the Revolution, and its effect was enormous.
The discouraged Colonists suddenly received new heart. Hope for the cause of
independence had a rebirth, and Washington, instead of fighting a losing
battle alone, found himself the leader of his countrymen in fact, as well as
in name! In crossing the Delaware, Washington had saved the cause of American
Originally broadcast 21 December 1928
on NBC's dramatic anthology series
"Great Moments in History"